Using Wireless Phones for Communication

Wow. Time flies. It seems like only yesterday I was giving my clinic Helpful Hints for Hosting Operating Sessions at the NMRA’s 75th anniversary national convention in Milwaukee. During this presentation, I described how we use wireless telephones for communication during operating sessions. Attendees at one session asked about the phones I selected for the Shenandoah Division.

Prior to the May 2010 operating session we used FRS radios on two separate channels: the dispatcher used one channel to talk with road crews, with the supervisor of train operations, dispatcher, North Salem yardmaster, and superintendent used a second channel. When crew size warranted, the STO used a third channel to call crews from the crew lounge.

After operating several times on the BNSF Fall River Division, and using the intercom system there, I decided to use cordless telephones with intercom for communication between the STO, dispatcher, North Salem yardmaster, superintendent, and crew call. The dispatcher continues to communicate with trains crews via FRS radios.

Intercom in use at North Salem yard

Here's an example of one of the VTech 6229 phones in use as an intercom at North Salem yard.

After doing some  investigation, I decided to use the VTech 6229 wireless phone system (note: link to Amazon for convenience). This phone system allows up to 12 handsets to be used, and it has an easy to use intercom system.

I initially bought the 5 telephone set to cover the locations I needed, and I later added an additional phone at the south end of Catawba so train crews inbound to North Salem can call the yardmaster for arrival instructions. To assist crew members, I made a list of the intercom stations and attached it to the back of the phone as shown in the photo above.

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7 Responses to Using Wireless Phones for Communication

  1. Phil says:

    Bruce, do you just utilize the intercom feature of these phones, i.e., they are not hooked up to an external phone line?

  2. shendiv says:


    We use these phones as our home phones. They’re scattered throughout our home, except during operating sessions. The wall wart for the base unit does need to be plugged in, but the telephone line does not. The phones could then be used strictly as a wireless intercom.


  3. mark dance says:

    Hi Bruce…I am experimenting with a similar approach but am using the Panasonic handsets rather than the VTech ones.

    A question: if you want to call the Dispatcher through the intercom, for example, how many button presses are required to place the call?

    The reason I ask is that my application is for TT&TO where the crews will OS their position to the Dispatcher when they reach a TO station. With the Panasonic phones this means 3 button presses on a handset: one to pull up the Menu; one to initiate the intercom fucntion; and another to select the Dispatcher handset. I would have preferred a single button press of course as fewer is better when the crews primary role is to keep an eye on their trains.

    Your feedback is greatly appreciated.

    thx, md

    • shendiv says:


      I’ve added a post which covers many of the questions I’ve been asked over the last few months about the VTech wireless phones.

      The call to any station is pretty simple, but it is 2 button presses: INT followed by the station # (1-6 in my case). I made a cheat sheet listing the station numbers, and I applied these lists to the back of each of these phones.

      There may be wireless phone systems with the single button press to call another station, but I either didn’t find any when I researched phones in late 2009 or I found them but they were too expensive to justify.

      Have you considered making the train crew stop when performing the OS? They’re switching “hats” momentarily to play the role of the operator, so by having the crew stop the train, the crew member can fully concentrate on the operator role before returning to the engineer role.

      Another alternative I’ve experienced could be used if you have 2-person crews. Have the conductor do the OS while the engineer continues to run the train.

      I hope the blog post helps answer your questions. If not, please comment either here or on the new post.

      • Mark Dance says:

        Many thx for the reply Bruce and the additional info in the post.

        Unfortunaltey a headset connection to the base station handset is on my list of “must haves”…I will be using the phones in place of crew radios for the Dispatcher to talk to crews at TO stations. It will eb their only verbal communication method. I would like the Dispatcher to wear the headset so they don’t have to keep picking up the phone handset. I wonder if there are compatible VTech phones that do have headset connections? Have you found anything in your research?

        In terms of crews stopping, well, most of my TO stations are either Register stations or brake/thermal tests so stops will naturally occur most of the time, however not all the time…

        Perhaps I will just test the Panasonic ones to see? Some additional benefits are the ability to “name” the handsets and very convenient vertical mounting.

        • shendiv says:


          After I bought the phones, I didn’t keep any of my research links around. Accordingly, I don’t know if any of the VTech phones are compatible with headsets. I’m sure the Amazon or VTech web site would provide more information.

          I understand your desire for headsets, but needing headsets was just not at the top of my requirement list. Simplicity of use and expandability in the number of handsets were higher requirements for me. The VTech 6229 set met these requirements. And I haven’t heard any of my dispatchers mention a problem with not having a headset for the phones. Of course, they already wear a headset for the FRS radios when communicating with train crews, so they probably wouldn’t like wearing 2 headsets anyway. 😉

          Given my personal requirements, once I found a the VTech 6229 set at a great price, I made the purchase decision. This set of phones meets my needs quite well, and I’m happy with them. Good luck in your search.


  4. Pingback: Update on Using Wireless Phones | CSX Shenandoah Division

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